Among the more successful relationships between North American racing series, the bond between IndyCar and World Challenge made for a fan-friendly combination of open-wheel and sports car competition.
Their relationship, which served up hearty GT battles and epic paint-trading Touring Car clashes, changed a few years back. Driven by feedback from the paddock and a new notion of independence conjured by its leadership, World Challenge chose to sever most ties to IndyCar and venture out as a standalone property. Its fortunes, using attendance and general awareness as metrics of value, have not risen since striking out on its own with the renamed Blancpain World Challenge GT America series.
In its absence, IndyCar has taken to sanctioning the single-make Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, which delivers maximum entertainment, but its limited schedule makes the little buzzbombs an infrequent guest on the IndyCar calendar. Missing a steady 1-2 punch with exotic sports cars, IndyCar has also suffered a loss of entertainment at some rounds.
Recognizing that it was stronger as an IndyCar ally, and having taken note of the NTT IndyCar Series gaining momentum in the marketplace, World Challenge CEO Greg Gill wants to rebuild the series’ bridge to IndyCar ahead of the 2020 season.
“This is my desire,” Gill said. “While they were here in my hometown (of Austin, Texas, for the recent IndyCar race), I had some preliminary conversations about that. It is something that we feel strongly about. I think that there’s opportunity on both sides. And I like it because… Barber, as a good example – I can remember getting a fan letter, and that’s when we ran all the cars there and a guy had come out, and yeah, he came for IndyCar, but he loved the sports car show. And as he said, ‘Even them little cars!’ And at the time it was TCB cars he was talking about. But he loved it. His kid had a great time, they just thoroughly enjoyed it.”
With its big GT3 bangers from Bentley, Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche, plus GT4 cars, like those on this weekend’s Long Beach schedule, represented by Audi R8s, BMW M4s, Chevy Camaros, Ford Mustangs, and more, and smaller TCR models from the likes of Alfa Romeo, Hyundai, Honda and VW, Gill is confident a reunion with IndyCar will offer all manner of attractions for a blended audience.
“I think the beauty of sports car racing is we can recognize the brands,” he said. “When you have something that is so diverse… we’re very proud of saying that more sports car brands race with us than any other series on the planet. That remains true. I like that from a fan standpoint. Then where are the fans? Where are the big crowds? They’re at IndyCar races. So why not have something where we can put ourselves there and tell the story, and I have gone on record saying, I think it was mistake for us to do the dramatic switch off that we did with IndyCar. We should have had a more gradual and maybe more thoughtful way – honestly, the way that we’ve been re-approaching it in 2019 and 2020.”
By taking a measured approach to the process, Gill hopes to work with IndyCar president Jay Frye to bring more World Challenge content to IndyCar races, while also maintaining the series’ presence as a headliner at non-IndyCar events.
“So, it’s something that we have to balance,” he said. “The exposure level for your business by being at an IndyCar event – that’s important to us. Jay and I have spoken about this on the IndyCar side, I’d like to see us do more in involvement with IndyCar. Whether it’s with GT3, or I think it’s quite likely to do GT4 and TC. I think you’ll see more of that with us.”